Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao is a hawker stall selling affordable handmade xiao long bao from the skin to the fillings in Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre – 牛车水. This stall is in close proximity to the other Hawker Chan Liao Fan Hong Kong Style Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles with Michelin Star. That is also the world’s first Michelin starred street food stall and also the cheapest.
So after getting the xiao long bao at 中国拉面小笼包, you can conveniently queue for the chicken rice as well. Since Xiao Long Bao in Singapore is popularised by Taiwan chain restaurant giant Din Tai Fung, many xiao long bao fanatics will use the DTF XLB standard as the benchmark. Their xiao long bao are of a different gene from the DTF ones. However, it should curb your xiao long bao’s cravings if you are on a shoe string budget.
Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao
History of Xiao Long Bao
Xiao long bao can date back to as far as Tang and Song Dynasty in China with their flamboyant and intricate dim sum culture prepared by the Royal chefs. These xiao long bao evolves from the dim sum prepared by the civilians in the olden times to express their gratitude towards the front line soldiers for their part in serving the people during war. Dim sum is also said to be brought about by the teahouse culture where a small basket of 2 delicate Chinese snack is served to go with the tea.
However in these modern times, it is documented that xiao long bao actually originated from the outskirt of Shanghai, Nanxiang. Xiao long bao are Shanghainese snack that are considered as “protected traditional treasures” by the governers. There are a certain stringent unspoken benchmarks to a good xiao long bao such as the delicate texture and thinness of the skin. A good xiao long bao is one that is filled with savoury meat filling of excellent texture with a paper thin translucent skin that holds a pool of steaming hot soup stock in a pleated puff.
Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao serves 12 varieties of xiao long bao, dumplings and la mian (hand pulled noodles) on his menu. They have steamed mini buns aka xiao long bao, boiled, steamed or pan fried dumplings, Szechuan Spicy wantons, several types of noodles and hot spicy soup. The popular ones are the xiao long bao($6.50 for 10 pieces) and the spicy wantons($5 for 10 pieces).
The stall is flanked by columns of mini bamboo steam baskets that reach up to almost the ceiling of the shop front, stacks of flour in sacks and a dough machine.
The hand rolled dough for the dumpling wrappers are fed through the machine and out comes some perfectly thin consistent sheets of round skin for the xiao long bao.
The stall hand then scoop a ball of minced pork with frozen stock and hand pleat these into mini “golf ball” size xiao long bao and dumplings.
The key to their savoury bao is the soup stock that is boiled for over 12 hours according to the boss, Mr Li Feng Cai. Mr Li started learning the ropes of handmade noodles, dumpling and xiao long bao since the tender age of 16. Having travelled to cities such as Beijing and Shenzhen to horn his culinary skills, he has since settled down in Singapore with his wife in 1997 from Anhui, China. Having run this business for close to 12 years, he has established a strong local customer fan base. His involvement in the The Michelin Street Food Festival as the xiao long bao team also drew more attention to his stall.
Xiao long bao is actually steamed soup dumpling or mantou. Xiao long refers to the small steam baskets and the bao refers to the soup dumpings with fillings. These are usually handmade due to the intricacy of the snack. These are filled with minced pork and pork rind jelly to create that juicy burst when you bite into them.
These rind jelly are made by pressure cooking pork rinds with ginger and scallions. When the rinds become soft and translucent, these are then blended with a food processor to liquid state and refrigerate overnight till it becomes a jelly. The skin is rolled into a very thin consistency and used to encase these minced pork and jellied rinds. To seal these, the dough skin is skilfully pleated using finger tips into a little swirl puff.
The trick to keeping the xiao long bao fat and plump with juices – lies in the details of the pleats. Usually there is a very tiny air vent where the pleats meet. This tiny air vent helps to release the steam from individual xiao long bao so that the soup is retained in the baos instead of breaking the skin when too much steam builds up in the bao.
During the steaming process, the meat is cooked and the jelly stock is melted. The result is a marriage of fat bulging meaty bao sitting in a pool of umami stock instead of the deflated shrivelled one. The duration and the strength of the steam is also a crucial factor to the texture and outlook. A good xiao long bao is one that is rich with juices within the almost translucent thinnest skin can be and can be picked up at the tip with a chopsticks without breaking.
The xiao long bao ($6.50) comes in 2 mini steam basket stacked on top of each other in fives. The stall hands also try to keep them warm by stacking another plate atop the steamed basket.
The “correct way” to eating xlb is by picking it up at the peak where all the creases meets and place in it on a Chinese soup spoon. Nibble off a hole and slurp up the soup.
Dip the xiao long bao in a vinegary sauce with thinly shredded young ginger and add a dollop of chilli oil. Pop it whole into your mouth and enjoy the burst of mixed flavours of sharp vinegary flavours with sweet morsel of meat.
The skin has a mild elasticity to it and holds the warm soup well. The soup has a comforting sweet scallion flavours to it and pairs well with the young mild ginger vinegar dip. The chilli is chicken rice chilli and my preference is for those smoky chilli flake oil when it comes to XLB dip.
Also on the radar is the Szechuan spicy wanton ($5) that is served in a pool of rich red vinegary chilli oil.
The chilli oil has a smoky flavour and bring with it some lip numbing and tingling sensation when you pop these into your mouth. The parsley and spring onions add a refreshing earthy flavour to the wanton and helps to cut some of the grease from the oil if any. The slippery wanton skin is also well coated with a sharp pique flavour from sauce. The meat is on the sweet end with a firm bouncy texture due to the fat using in the minced meat.
Overall review, this is a great affordable Chinese cuisine at budget prices that is worth visiting for it handmade food in Chinatown and friendly service.
11.30 am to 3 pm, 5pm till 8.30pm (Wed-Sunday)
Closed on Monday and Tuesday.
中国拉面小笼包 Zhong Guo La Mian Xiao Long Bao Location:
Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre
Blk 335 Smith street, #02-135, Singapore 050335
Tel: +65 97435287